Autistic and physically handicapped children have often been excluded from regular schools because they are considered to require special care. But that barrier has been overturned by Kunlajin Kindergarten School, where such children are integrated with regular students.
Founded over 30 years ago, Kunlajin originally served as a nursery and kindergarten taking care of less than 10 children. A few years later, the school accepted a little girl _ a daughter of school founder Kannika Kunlajin's friend _ who was diagnosed as autistic and who was included with other children.
Today, while many schools have accepted children with special needs in a combined environment, Kunlajin was one of the first that put that approach into practice and it has recently expanded the idea with the help of information technology.
There are three groups of students at the kindergarten school: normal children, children with special needs and the older group at the Non-Formal and Informal Education level. The special needs children include those with autism, Down's syndrome and physical handicaps. This group needs to be diagnosed and classified by doctors before enrolling at the school.
Each class in the nursery and kindergarten has special needs children who passed the evaluation and readiness assessment. This group of children have an Individualised Education Plan (IEP) to record their physical development as well as muscle, speech, academic, sense and self-dependency progress.
Besides regular classes, the children are also treated for further development. Three rooms are reserved for speech practice, behaviour adjustment and physical therapy and every activity they do is recorded so that parents can be updated on their progress each week.
Children with physical problems attend an in-house therapy clinic, while a speech development clinic helps children with speech impairments.
Examination and development of the special needs students are monitored by a committee comprised of parents and teachers.
Kunlajin School has worked with other organisations including Walailak University, Songkhla Rajabhat University, Nakhon Pathom Rajabhat University, hospitals in Bangkok and Songkhla, the Special Education Centre and a network of doctors. Students who finish the kindergarten will be sent to Srinakhon School whereas Kunlajin continues following-up the learning development of the children.
KUNLAJIN ON THE WEB
A few years ago the school started a website enabling parents and doctors to monitor the children online. The site was initiated by Kitipan Kunlajin, the school owner's son, who has been familiar with special needs children from a young age.
Inspired by his mother's dedication, Kitipan, who studied IT, proposed "Database Management System for Development of Special Needs Children" as his graduate thesis.
"The idea of how to help the school with my expertise has always been in my mind, so I decided to do a project that would facilitate this group of students," said Kitipan, whose thesis was rejected by several lecturers as they thought it was impractical and suggested he do another topic.
However, his idea was accepted by Dr Jongsuk Kongsen who became his advisor and supported him with valuable suggestions. The project also won the "Research Project and Excellent Creativity of IT Management 2011" held by Princess of Naradhiwas University.
At Kunlajin School, Kitipan connected CCTV cameras to the website to allow parents to keep an eye on their children.
The system is comprised of two major parts: one for general users and the other for registered users including doctors, parents and teachers, who need a log-in and password to access the website. Parents can watch their children's real-time activities, view the results of their learning each week and also leave messages. Doctors can diagnose the children in the room prepared for each child. Teachers can daily score the students based on their IEP plans, while school administrators can view the overall results including doctors' diagnoses and parents' suggestions.
The project has five doctors, one each from Songklanagarind, Pramongkutklao, Hatyai, Ramathibodi and Siriraj hospitals.
Kannika said that prior to the launch of the website, a team of teachers took the children to the hospitals and did all the records manually on behalf of the parents.
In the past, teachers had to call the doctor and explain the symptoms then the doctor gave advice based on the answers. In case of an emotional problem, the doctor recommended taking the children to the bathroom, or taking them to the shower to cool them down, or taking them to the cool room where they can listen to soothing music to calm them.
Today all the manual records have been transferred to an electronic database enabling parents and doctors to access and monitor them via the internet.
"Actually most of the children require real-time monitoring because they have complicated symptoms which are likely to occur anytime," said Kannika.
Apart from Thais, there are also students from South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, most of whom were recommended by their doctors.
KUNLAJIN ON MOBILE APP
The school has been working with a research team from Walailak University, with support from the Software Industry Promotion Agency (Sipa), on developing a mobile application. The "KJ School app" is very helpful in cases where doctors don't have access to a computer or where the internet is unavailable.
"If the doctor can see the child's symptoms via their smartphone, the risks are reduced as the diagnosis is based on the doctor, rather than someone else telling them the symptoms," said the school owner.
The doctors who take care of the children are also willing to use the mobile app and with this tool they can teach medical students with real life cases as well as see the appointment schedule and treatment data.
The app lets parents see the doctor make diagnosis and prescriptions as well as offer information alerts, archive videos and appointment records.
Chatchanan Jandaeng, a Walailak University lecturer who heads the project, said that the mobile app will eventually support every platform _ Android, iOS and Windows Mobile, but today it can only run on Android. "We only developed the program two months ago, so video streaming cannot be done in real time since the 3G network is not yet widespread," said Chatchanan.
The team also plan to set up CCTV cameras at the children's homes and link them to the school so that doctors can see them in real time if their symptoms play up at home.
Several schools have expressed an interest in connecting with Kunlajin's system, tapping into its knowledge base and network of doctors.
Prinya Chatnukrob, manager of Sipa's Human Resource Development and Research for Industry Department, expects the project will attract more institutes and entrepreneurs so that it can create more valuable knowledge for society and the industry in the future.
Kunlajin Kindergarten School is one of the first schools in Thailand to provide a combined learning environment where children with special needs study alongside other children. The school also has a mobile app that allows doctors and parents to keep track of the children at school.